@awinehouse1 According to Carlo Laudisa of La Gazetta dello Sport, Napoli are set to make a move for Erik Lamela of Spurs in the summer. Lamela has largely disappointed since signing for Spurs, failing to make much of an impact under either Andres Villas Boas or Tim Sherwood. Sherwood barely used Lamela after his initial disappointing displays. Despite his position as the player responsible for Spurs’s largest ever transfer outlay, it seems likely that he will depart the club this summer. Napoli are offering him a route away from England, with Rafael Benitez keen to bring him to the club on loan ahead of their upcoming Champions League campaign. It is not known whether Mauricio Pochettino sees a future for Lamela at Spurs, but his future may rely on the whims of Director of Football Franco Baldini, who brought him to the club. Baldini may seek to save face by insisting that Pochettino give the £30m man an opportunity next season.
I’m going out on a limb here. This might, in hindsight, be seen as the delusional ramblings of a madman. I am, increasingly, finding my brain shouting at me that something might be up with the top four in the Premier League. There’s been a palpable shift in teams in the last few years, ever since Liverpool’s exit from the true ‘big four’. That Liverpool side that fell had become increasingly weakened, or, if not weakened, found itself being left behind by the rest of the sides that make up the Champions League contenders in this country, due to a lack of investment from the infamous Gillett and Hicks.
We’re doing a Lost style flashback here, helicopter noises and a zoom in on someone’s eyes. It’s the end of the season and Chelsea have just won the Champions League. Admittedly, not that much of a flashback. Eden Hazard is suddenly interested in signing for them. Manchester United are no longer truly in consideration for his signature. Chelsea, it seems, are going to spend. Somewhere on the A1, I come to the conclusion that Manchester City’s biggest challengers next season are going to be Chelsea. I’ve seen little to change my mind since. The potential arrival of Hulk threatens to turn a powerful front four into one that terrifies.
Then there are Arsenal, a team that always manage to qualify. Even this season, with extended periods of going without full backs, Arsenal pulled it off in the end. They impressed ultimately, and whilst they were reliant, to an extent, on Robin Van Persie, it felt as though the entire team was coming together by the end. In Alex Song, they have one of the most consistent players in the league, and arguably the best defensive midfielder. Theo Walcott, bemoaned, has proven his worth. Oxlade-Chamberlain has increasingly impressed. Jack Wilshere, out for an entire season, is set to return, and he has the potential to be the most talented English player of a decade. Even men like Tomas Rosicky have come to the fore, with Rosicky looking almost undroppable in the second half of the season, finally settling and showing the ability that brought about his signing in the first place. Even when one doesn’t factor in the arrivals of Podolski and Giroud, two great talents, both of whom have shown the ability to carry an entire team on their backs, Arsenal look unlikely to lack the talent necessary to finish in the top four. With these two strikers, the pressure will be removed somewhat from Van Persie, who, if he signs on, will find himself surrounded by the sort of talent he has long desired.
That is three teams I cannot see finishing outside of the top four, and possibly being the three that truly challenge for the title. Today, Spurs did what was rumoured of them, and appointed Andre Villas Boas. This is entirely the best move Spurs could have made in this situation. Harry Redknapp assembled a quality but expensive squad. Considering the talent at their disposal, however, it is entirely reasonable to suggest Tottenham’s fourth place finish last season was an underachievement. Gareth Bale, probably the best left winger in the league. Rafael Van Der Vaart, a player with undoubted ability and flair. Luka Modric, one of the best center midfielders in the country, if not the world. Three players who, with the solid players around them, any other manager would manage to a sustained title challenge. Redknapp’s laissez-faire attitude to tactics cost him. People blame his eye on the England job, but is there really actually any evidence Redknapp knows what he’s doing? The only club he can be said to have overachieved at, relative to the club’s size, is Portsmouth, where he delivered an FA Cup. However, relative to his expenditure at the club, he did not actually achieve anything surprising. He certainly cannot be seen to have overachieved at Spurs, who consistently spent heavily under his tenure.
So a change was needed, and in Villas Boas, Tottenham probably have the polar opposite. A systems manager, Villas Boas will implement the ideas he sought to implement at Chelsea, but not be hampered by an aging squad set in their ways. Furthermore, his high defensive line, a key feature of his incredible defensive success at Porto, is far more achievable at a side where he is not obliged to involve a captain with a propensity to fall over when asked to run a distance further than 6 yards. Admittedly Ledley King isn’t exactly fit anymore, but he’s not held in a ridiculously high regard by Spurs fans that renders him undroppable even when his knee is hanging off or shattered into sixteen million individual tiny shards. Aside from this, Villas Boas’s best sides have an incredible attacking thrust as well. The players will be ruthlessly drilled and marshaled. With the egos of Chelsea missing, Tottenham will likely profit from the appointment of Villas Boas. They are my fourth pick for Champions League places next year.
Obviously it will likely not work out as clear as that. One may have a poor start, or collapse, or it may just simply not work out as I had thought. There are other teams who I can see filling in the gaps however. Newcastle are the closest to those four, with a lethal attacking force. With further astute signings (and word from the city is that Ashley is ready to back an already successful transfer pairing of Graham Carr and manager Alan Pardew), they will be, in cliche terms, there or thereabouts come May. Liverpool will become a threat once more this season. Rodgers has shown his ability to implement a system at Swansea, something Liverpool lacked under Dalglish. On paper, they have an excellent squad in places, and with further improvements, Liverpool should be a genuine threat to fourth spot this year. My wildcard entry into this battle are Everton. With a good start this season, they could be challengers, especially now that they have added a striker who can flourish alone up front, and is not encumbered by recurring injuries. If they can bring Pienaar back or replace him with a clever signing, they can replicate the sort of form that propelled them up the table and within touching distance of the Europa League. They are also helped by an ability to concentrate exclusively on domestic affairs.
To clarify, City will, in my view, not even come close to dropping out of the top four. There are therefore seven (or eight, if you include Everton) teams that will challenge properly for four spots. How can a team that finished second last year, on the cusp of the title, be in the lower rungs of these sides?
Liverpool finished second in 2008-09, with a points total that would have won the league most other years. Even then they were accused of being reliant on Gerrard and Torres. The following year they finished seventh. The only important sale was that of Xabi Alonso.
Last season, Manchester United finished second, seconds away from winning the title. They were reliant on Rooney, who had an excellent return of goals, and the returning Paul Scholes, who shored up a weak midfield. However, I’d argue that the success they had was reliant on old successes. One merely has to look at the Champions League. Other teams, unaware of how they are meant to approach games against Manchester United, knocked them out of what was, really a very weak group. Athletic Club (Bilbao) absolutely tore them to shreds in the Europa League, destroying their first team. Bilbao performed well in cups, reaching two finals, but finished tenth in the supposedly weak La Liga. They are well managed, but not the sort of team you’d usually expect to systematically dismantle the champions of England, who only lost by a reasonable margin due to the absolute heroics of David de Gea. Crystal Palace went to Old Trafford and beat them, leading twice against them. The woeful Blackburn beat them at Old Trafford, and should have beat them at Ewood Park given the flow of the game. They surrendered an eight point lead in the league, losing to Wigan, and drawing a game against Everton that they were truly unlucky not to lose. And then of course, there was the six-one loss against Manchester City. The only game in which Manchester United truly impressed was against Arsenal, and that was at a point in the season when Arsenal’s first team was like a loose confederation of toddlers who only had the use of one leg.
The reality of last season is that teams proved that if one goes to Old Trafford looking for a win, with an attacking bent, and a willingness to pressure, one will get a result. The aura has been lost. It should be shattered. There is nothing to be fearful of.
Yes, they have signed Kagawa. He’s a player of some quality, and has impressed in his time at Dortmund. Yet it is really not a clever signing. Kagawa is at his best playing off a front man, the same position that Rooney should occupy. Certainly to get the best out of both of them, Ferguson would have to play a vague diamond, which isn’t ideal in the modern game. It also doesn’t deal with the frailty in the center of Manchester United’s midfield. The supposed future heroes of this midfield, Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba have gone. The future at that club no longer promises success. One cannot see Manchester United spending further this summer, given the constraints at the club, where securing marketing deals seems more important than signing players. There are obvious weaknesses in several positions apart from the midfield. Both full back positions have frailties, with no clear first choice right back. The center of defence is, without Vidic, not strong, and Ferdinand is no longer the player he once was. Ferguson is cannot also no longer be seen to make no faulty decisions. He’s always been one to rotate unnecessarily, to his detriment (drafting his son in during crucial games in 1991/1992 can be seen as an early example of this).
To sum it all up, the combination of strength elsewhere and weakness at Manchester United are why I’m making this suggestion. I’ll be interested to see what the situation is in May. Now, can anyone get in contact with me to tell me where I can put a bet on?
Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to hear more ludicrous predictions.
Images of marketing deals secured from the fabulous The State of the Game.
4/5 on. Evens. 15/8 by far the highest. Harry Redknapp, given the success he has had at Tottenham, is most certainly the current favourite to become the next permanent manager of England after the departure of Fabio Capello in the summer. However, on this day of trial and tribulation, we at Spoughts felt it apt to consider this seemingly inevitable appointment. The conclusion? Precedent suggests that it is not entirely acceptable to see Redknapp as the next manager.
As Harry Redknapp stands in the dock, accused of receiving bungs that he avoided mentioning for tax reasons, alongside his former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, thoughts will not be cast back to an event over eleven years ago. We’re nothing but picky here, however, and whenever rumours abound over Redknapp’s imminent appointment, minds cast back to the trial of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer.
Whether Harry Redknapp is guilty of the crime he stands accused of or not is not the issue at hand. On the 2nd of November, in the year 2000, Peter Taylor, England caretaker manager, was told by the Football Association that he would not be allowed to include the two Leeds players in his squad for the friendly match against Italy. They stood accused of a racially motivated assault on the streets of Leeds, and the FA therefore told Taylor that whilst the trial was ongoing, the two could not be involved in the England set up. Yet there has not been any consideration of the implications of this precedent on the employment of Harry Redknapp.
Understandably, given the nature of what Redknapp stands accused of, compared to the supposed crime of Bowyer and Woodgate, leeway could be given. The trial may be over well before Capello leaves. Yet the manner in which the next appointment will be made gives cause to our caution. Capello has already announced his departure, and even if one were to suggest the FA is a mildly incompetent, it is unrealistic to suggest that discussions have not even reached preliminary stages as to who the future appointment may be. Redknapp, standing trial in an English court of law, much like Bowyer and Woodgate all those years ago, remains the favourite, despite the fact that England previously wouldn’t have two potentially guilty men represent their team, never mind lead it into the next World Cup.
What Redknapp stands accused of does, however, pale in comparison to what Bowyer and Woodgate stood trial for, and this may be where the discrepancy occurs. The Football Association, so keen to stamp out racist action ten years ago, has however, allowed a situation to arise by which the man leading England into the most imminent tournament could find himself in court for a similar crime. John Terry has had his file passed over to the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the Anton Ferdinand incident, by which he stands potentially accused of using racially aggravated language against Ferdinand. This has led to a series of racially motivation incidents involving Chelsea fans over the previous few months, and therefore, Terry could be seen, in an extreme light, as responsible for inciting these.
Terry remains captain, and no discussions have truly taken place in the media as to the potential for him to lose ‘the armband’. When compared to Woodgate and Bowyer, the positive aspect to Terry’s issues is that he has not, as of the time of writing, been brought to trial. There is no guarantee that he will be. Chances are, however, that if he is, it will be between now and the European Championships. In our view, should Terry’s case come to trial, he should not be allowed to represent the nation, never mind captain the side.
Given the potential for the timing of Terry’s potential problems, he should not be involved in the preparations for the European Championships – until the matter is solved, a defence should not be reliant on a player who by FA precedent should not be allowed to play for the side. Furthermore, discussions should not take place with Redknapp until his trial ends, as to do so would be a violation of the same precedent. This is why I feel it is unacceptable for either man to have a role to play in the present or near future of the England set-up.